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Why the Caged Bird Sings
The sides of the cup were still perfect and clear, unscarred by the damage merely one sip could do. I knew that my mother would start nagging me to ‘just gulp it down for Ch***t’s sake!’ as was the regular routine, but something about the coloring of the liquid almost made it look like chai tea.
Milk is not supposed to look brown. At least, not naturally. Of course, it always looked brown, there was no getting around that, I’m sure even the snooty rich kids drank brown milk, but that didn’t make me want to drink it any more.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not the cow’s fault she didn’t have enough water, it’s not like she wanted to make chai colored milk, but you’d think people (and by people I suppose I mean you) would have thought about that before they sent everything spiraling into the black pit that is now reality. So next time people get lazy, maybe they’ll remember that there are side effects to things not everyone wants to deal with.
Evan drank his milk, no problem, in one swallow, but that just made it even less appetizing. The way he drained everything perfectly, without leaving a single drop in sight…it made my skin crawl. Almost everything about my brother did that to me. He couldn’t even understand that what he calls ‘the temporary water drawback’ is not temporary but very permanent and extremely damaging to everyone and everything, in and out of California, and no he is no exception.
When breakfast was over—6:50—Evan walked me down the road to Building 180, the Therapeutic Healing Center. Most kids went to school everyday at 7:00, and for the first hour and a half they learned about the necessary skills for preserving the Earth’s water resources. Then they had four hours of background studies—math, language, grammar, etc.—then more Water Preservation till 3:20.
However, my schedule was slightly different. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, there were hundreds more of us who were “challenged” or “held back”, or in other words “simply not fit to be in a learning environment with other normal, healthy children”. So for the first two hours of everyday we visited with doctors who gave us the special teaching we needed.
Evan brought me into the front desk and signed me in with the lady at the front desk, and then nodded good-bye (to her) and walked off to school. The receptionist leads me to the elevator, as if I didn’t know where it is, and even went as far as pushing the floor button for me.
“Have a good day at school, honey!” She beamed. The only thing I beamed back were knives. I made a point not to smile at anyone in this hellhole. Evan says that’s why I have to come here every morning.
I always felt bad making the elevator man take me up all those five floors; he had to listen to me blabber on about my vivid opinions. But no one would let me take the stairs. What did they think I’d to do, fall and bruise my knee? They only wanted me to feel their kind of pain? At least I’m not stuck in a lab learning about some guys new theory for multiplying water molecules that might—oh MY god,’might’!?—work...this time.
The door was directly opposite the elevators—they really didn’t want me alone at anytime!
“Come in, Katja.” Just the sound of his voice! It was so dry and clipped, like this whole, dehydrated world. I kicked the door open with my foot and shuffled over to his beautifully, comfortable couch—the only reason worth coming. It was made of heaven. I then fell back into it and made myself at home in a crevices between the pillows, burrowing myself away from his ugly voice.
“Good morning, Katja—“ the way he said it left an obvious hang off; I couldn’t tell if he wanted me to interrupt him or if he’d had a thought he gave a second run through and decided to toss it. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the second; I didn’t think many of his ideas were worth jack.
“Yeah, sure.” Was all I offered in reply. I knew he would find a way to run the whole conversation anyway.
“Hmmm…” He stared at me, his expression empty, tapping a pen against his chin and one leg crossed over the other. When he remained silent for an uncomfortably long time I raised my eyebrow at him, and then, when there was still no response, I leaned back to catch up on more sleep. I mean if he knew me at all he’d realize he’d kind of had it coming.
“I’m going to show you a series of images, Katja. I want you to tell me the first thing that pops into your head when you see them.” I slapped a hand over my face in frustration.
“Why, why do you always do that?” He looked at me quizzically, or at least I imagined he did—my eyes were still shut. “Do what?”
“Wait to talk until I’m finally comfortably settled in with the silence.” He chuckled, but it sounded more like a cough or a dying monkey. “This isn’t nap class, Katja, sit up. We’ll begin with these slides. Tell me the first thing that comes to you when you see them.”
A slid of a waterfall. “Paradise.” So simple and beautiful, I longed to see that impossible wonder someday. Of course, I knew that was impossible because of the indecent greed of the human race.
“Could you elaborate?”
“It’s not here.” By here I mean everything besides that couch.
Children playing and splashing in a stream. “Freedom.” You’d call it that too if your childhood lacked that simple joy.
A group of people in perfect formation. “Torture.” Hey, it was the first word that popped into my brain—that’s what he wanted, right?
“How is that torture?” He asked me, the pen still tapping in rhythmical order.
“Who want to sit like that? It’s just too mathematical—unnatural. ”
“What’s wrong with mathematical things. How are they unnatural?”
“It’s ugly.” He started to argue his point, but stopped himself with a deep breath. I was getting to him, which I have to say, was kind of what I lived for.
Two people smiling at each other. “Love.”
“Well, for a start, you don’t see me smiling at you, and I certainly don’t even like you.” He took another calming breath, which confirmed a small victory in the pit of my stomach.
The ocean. God, it was beautiful. “Wow…” I couldn’t help it, there was such a reverent wonder to the vast expanse of water.
“’Wow’ what?” He really wanted everything spelled out for him, huh?
“I just can’t believe people would be so stupid to ruin something so amazing—and need I say necessary—like water.”
“You don’t think it just ran out. You think there’s someone to blame?”
“Yes! The cycle was thrown off by human greed, and once people realized that they were too lazy to change anything!” I felt my voice rising with every word and my hands clenching into first in my lap.
Then: “I see. I think today’s lesson is over.” Okay, double take—what? He was a very schedualed man. He didn’t even let me go to the bathroom during class.
“Should I leave?” He’d caught me off guard.
“No. Stay where you are. I’ll ring your guardians.” My reaction was that of any child’s when a teacher tells them he’s calling their parents.
Before he left, he called in two nurses. They came in pushing a stretcher between them, attached to it many straps and buckles. I wondered who was sick? I barely had time to process anything before one of them grabbed my arm.
“Katja, get onto the table, you have a final exam.” A test? That was why we’d finished early! The regular feelings of dread threaded it’s self into my stomach and hovered there, attacking my nerves. Just think of the emotional stress this would put on me!
I climbed onto the table and let them strap my arms and legs down. They wheeled me through several white halls, and into a little room. There was nothing else in it except a simple chair and a small cabinet in the corner. We waited about twenty minutes for my mother and father to arrive. The teacher brought them in, carrying a packet, which I assumed was the test. Although, I couldn’t remember any other test I’d ever had involving my parents being present and me being strapped to a table. In fact all I could remember was a hazy confusion. Perhaps that was to enhance the challenge? Let me tell you, going 20 minutes strapped to a board is not good for the back or the attention span. But, I did learn that this room has a silky smooth ceiling.
“As you two know,” he addressed my parents with handshakes, “Katja has some certain mental handicaps that, to this day, you and I have been dealing with. We had thought that the simple medication was all that was necessary, but current results have proven us wrong. I’m afraid the only humane things left to do, to put your Katja out of her pain, is either to do the full management surgery, which we discussed earlier this month, or, I’m afraid, cancellation, which none of us want.” …Uh, what?!...
The teacher went on. “Now, if you decide to put her through the surgery then I believe we can start as early as…” he checked his schedule, but it was evident he’s already memorized it, “…actually we have an appointment open in twenty minutes.” My parents looked at one another, then nodded. My mother squeezed my hand. I looked from the teacher’s satisfied face to my parents over trusting ones, then to the straps on my arms. I was sick? Whoa, whoa, whoa, they were going through with this? Wait, what happened to that test? I tried to lift my arm just to scratch my nose, but the metal cuff held me down. I tried to wiggle it free.
“Don’t worry, Katja, just hold still. We’ll make you better.” His dry voice was underlined with a thick syrup. I started to realize that he hadn’t even told me what this surgery was, and when I tried to brake my feet lose, they were held firmly. I couldn’t help but scream then, and flail, but the leather straps were measured to easily hold back the strength of an underfed sixteen year old.
“Don’t worry, this will all go away, you’re making the right choice. She’s a very sick girl, we need to put her out of her misery.” Well that boat is about to sail, mister. And the only way to fix it is to let me out of this movement limiting contraption, but the claustrophobia was constricting around my neck and I could feel my lungs contracting, and joints locking up. My tongue was sandpaper against my mouth, and all I wanted then was milk. Even if it was brown, I just wanted something to drink!
My parents left. Considerate of the teacher to make them walk all the way here to ask them a three-sentence question and then send them on their way.
Someone gave me a pill for my pain, but it didn’t really help. All I noticed after that was the skeletal beings drifting into my room and the bugs crawling along the floor. The two nurses strapped we down tighter and tighter but left my arm bared of its sleeve.
“All right,” Someone was playing his horrible voice through a loud speaker; it was all I could hear! Why was that needed? “And let’s begin.” I felt a cold, searing pain slicing through my forearm. I tried to move, but before I could, the feeling was everywhere. On the back of my neck, my stomach, my shoulders, my ankles...The pain sent me spiraling into a broken stupor. Somehow I’d lost control of my own body, every part, it seemed, except my eyes. As the shadowy figures hovering at the edges of the room began to descend on me there was cracking whip against my back. I screamed as loud as I could, but his voice was still louder:
“Alright, we’re ready.” As a last defense I tried to close my eyes, to shut off all my senses completely, but I found that I couldn’t. “Look straight at the ceiling, Katja.” I cringed at the volume; I had no choice but to look up, and he knew that. There were more slides.
A lake, mist coming off the top and the morning sun glinting off the surface. It took a few electrical shocks for me to answer this time. I have to say, I preferred the couch. “Water!” I gasped out
“What do you think of water?” I didn’t answer immediately so he probed further. “Is it a problem?”
“Yes…” The only thing that surprised me was that I was still around and conscious. Was extreme pain or shock, like, supposed to make you keel over dramatically?
“It’s all gone…” My voice sounded detached and far away.
“Don’t you know everything’s taken care of?” Taken care of my a**.
“No—“ before I could finish a lightning bolt broke out across my chest. I yelled out at him—profanities, some of which should have been forgiven merely for the awesome creativity behind them—but my only response was another splitting pain across my thigh, I was too woozy to distinguish its type.
It went on, I don’t know how long, but it never seemed to stop. My vision became more fuzzy and inventive and my mind more disconnected. Everything seemed terribly familiar…
He started the conversation in a scratchy voice: “So, how are you feeling, Katja?”
“Good. I…” I closed my eyes from the light. I felt like I’d been run over by a train. All though my friend, the couch, was a legitimate form of healing.
“I don’t really…have I been here all night?” I turned to him to fill in my memory lapse.
“Yes. You’re very sick, but we’re getting you through this.”
I was sick? He was right I did feel awful. I can’t say this from experience, but I imagine the feeling I had was something like falling from a 15 story building into a pit of bulls. Then, somewhere in there were the poisonous snakes and the boxer punching me in the gut. I sunk deeper into the couch, feeling perfectly relaxed (minus the previously described section).
“So, tell me about the slides you see. Here, this one, what is it?”
“What do you think of it? Have you seen one before?”
“No, it’s—“ I looked down at my fingers, suddenly interested in the red paint caked underneath the nail. They must have had me painting. I thought flitted through my memory, something about loosing something, or spilling something; I couldn’t place it.
He smiled at me and I remembered.
“Yes. We visited it last night.” I could still feel the cool liquid on my hands.
I smiled back.